Time of Lament

From N.T. Wright, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.,” Time Magazine Online, March 29, 2020.

“The point of lament, woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.

“God was grieved to his heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures. He was devastated when his own bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him. And when God came back to his people in person—the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about—he wept at the tomb of his friend. St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit “groaning” within us, as we ourselves groan within the pain of the whole creation. The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to recognize the One God in the tears of Jesus and the anguish of the Spirit.

“It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.”

Reading Stack

It has been a tough and challenging time for humanity, hasn’t it? It’s hard to know what to say or where to begin. Today, I’ll refer you to the words of others who have helped me think about and process the hurt, pain, confusion, and sadness so many are feeling.

  • In Reaping the Whirlwind, Eric Crawford (WDRB) works through his feelings after being asked to comment on the recent shootings and protests in Louisville. Take your time with this one and pour over what he has to say. His writing is well worth it.
  • Esau McCaulley, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and an assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, has written A Nation on Fire Needs the Flames of the Spirit for Christianity Today online. Based on his most recent sermon, this essay discusses how Pentecost can help the church find its voice during times of racial strife.
  • I’ve been blessed to be invited to join my best friend’s Sunday School class that meets over Zoom every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening from North Carolina. We recently read and discussed Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, which offers “a way to find spirituality in those times when we don’t have all the answers.” It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I highly recommend it.
  • Last, but most definitely not least, I found the text of the prayer given by Rev. C.B. Atkins, pastor of First Baptist Church Bracktown in Lexington, KY, during one of Governor Beshear’s press conferences. It was so moving to listen to Rev. Atkins’ words; I pray you find as much in the printed version:

“Let us pray together. Eternal God, the God of all people, because you are omniscient, there is nothing we can tell you that you don’t already know. So let me start by thanking you for clearing up busy schedules, for allowing us to pause to collectively acknowledge you today. We are aware that not all storms come to disrupt our life, some come to clear our path. Your ways are not our ways and your thoughts are not our thoughts. Isaiah reminds us that there is no searching of your understanding. So we did not come today to call you on the carpet to explain, we came to thank you for your power and willingness to sustain. 

“Worldwide COVID-19 has claimed 350,000 reported deaths, 100,000 in the United States, and 400 in Kentucky. These are staggering numbers of the arresting reality of this horrific pandemic. Still I refuse to be guilty either as a messenger of God or a man of color.

“I’m mentioning the racial pandemic that has been devastating a segment of your people in this country for over 400 years, emboldened now afresh by people in powerful positions in public places. It is not that the minority population has been silent, but rather that the majority population has been deaf. The high number of deaths from coronavirus has been needless, and the continuous deaths of innocent black men and women in this country is senseless.

“Frantic searches are underway in laboratories around the world for a vaccine for COVID-19. But even if one is discovered, and I pray it will be, but if we ignore the cure for that pandemic as we have ignored the cure for the racial pandemic, having done so for political, economic, and aristocratic expediency, then all efforts will ultimately be in vain.

“I pray God that you strip us of the false assurance that grows from pride in our powers and ignorance of our ignorance. After you strip us, then bathe us in compassion so our shared pain will generate a powerful passion that will eventuate in reaching a divine purpose.

“As dark as this day may be, I am assured you did not bring us this far to leave us now. Hatred, divisiveness, and even death are but finite happenings. We cling to an infinite hope. You’ve already given us the panacea for this and all pandemics. You have told us what is good and what you require, that is to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before our God. You have not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.

“If your people who are called by your name would humble themselves and pray, turn from our wicked ways and seek your face, you promise that you will hear from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our land. Comfort us, oh God. Guide, guard, and govern us. God of all nations. Known by many names. Do it through Christ Jesus my Lord. Amen.”

-Reverend C. B. Atkins 5/28/2020

An Author’s Legacy

Today’s read is Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans.

From Amazon: From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Held Evans (1981-2019) comes a book that is both a heartfelt ode to the past and hopeful gaze into the future of what it means to be a part of the Church.

Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn’t want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals–church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.

Centered around seven sacraments, Evans’ quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.

A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.

Personal Note: An open mind and a willingness to have your beliefs and notions challenged are required when reading Rachel Held Evans. She can be polarizing — readers seem to either love her or hate her — but no matter how she makes you “feel,” she will always make you think. And she will always… always… remind us of just how much God loves us. Sadly, Rachel passed away last year after a short illness; I’m so thankful to still have her words.

Helpless as a Child

I love you, O LORD, my strength. (Psalm 18:1)

From Longing to Pray by Ellsworth Kalas:   “This is the essence of the prayer of helplessness. We seek from a base of love, and we solicit power to live. This is a mood born of the nursing infant who clings to the breast in trusting love and draws from it the very strength of life. It is the small boy holding his father’s hand on a crowded street: love and strength. It is a child of God, of whatever age, surrounded by the armies of hell, taking hold of with love the indomitable strength of God. Helplessness as a word may not appeal to us, but as an experience it is universal and lifelong. Perhaps it is even necessary. Without it, we would be incomplete as humans, because we wouldn’t know the full dimensions of friendship, either human or divine.”

Jesus infant

The Virgin of the Veil, Ambrogio Borgognone, 1500

A Little Poetry

Not long after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s death in 1882, biographer Eric S. Robertson noted, “The ‘Psalm of Life,’ great poem or not, went straight to the hearts of the people, and found an echoing shout in their midst. From the American pulpits, right and left, preachers talked to the people about it, and it came to be sung as a hymn in churches.”

In 1850, Longfellow reportedly wrote in his journal how happy he was to hear that a minister had quoted his poem in a sermon, although he was disappointed that none of the congregants could identify the author!

Let’s read again (or maybe for the first time) this classic Victorian poem. You may even recognize a few of the more famous lines that have been lifted and used elsewhere over the years.

Enjoy.

Psalm 116

A psalm of gratitude and praise.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
    “I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
    “Everyone is a liar.”

What shall I return to the Lord
    for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;
    I serve you just as my mother did;
    you have freed me from my chains.

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
    and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord
    in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.

Prayer for Peace and Calm

Dear Lord and Father of humankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

– John Greenleaf Whittier

 

You may be wondering why such difficulty has come into your life. However, the greater question is, “Lord, how do You plan to use this difficulty so I may serve You better?” — Charles Stanley